WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Negotiations are not taking place in Baghdad on the controversial oil law and other oil disputes, contrary to previous news accounts.
United Press International confirmed that a top U.S. State Department official tasked with moving the oil law forward is in Washington, not Iraq.
A number of Iraqi media had reported that a delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government was in Baghdad meeting with top national oil officials in an effort to find agreement on the stalled oil law.
Al Mowaten newspaper quotes a KRG spokesman that the region's oil minister is in Baghdad. But the paper also quotes a Kurdish member of the national Parliament Mahmoud Othamn said there's no such meeting taking place.
Iraq Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani is at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which began Wednesday.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Reuben Jeffery was dispatched "to work with the Iraqis on issues related to the hydrocarbon law," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a Nov. 30 news briefing. Media reports had mentioned Jeffery as a key facilitator of meetings on the oil issues, but UPI has confirmed he is not there.
The oil law has been stuck in negotiations for a year. Passing it was a so-called benchmark of the Bush administration as a mark of progress. Reaching an agreement on this and other disputes is seen as key to making progress in Iraq's political stagnation.
The Kurds and Baghdad are also at odds over the KRG passing a regional oil law and signing dozens of contracts with international oil firms, a move Baghdad calls unconstitutional.
The KRG has been developing its oil sector for three years. It has little of Iraq's proven oil reserves -- the third largest in the world -- but experts say there could be a bonanza when it's fully explored. The KRG had signed a small handful of deals with international oil firms prior to February 2007 when a deal was supposedly reached over the oil law.
Shahristani initially called them illegal, then null and void, and has since made good on the threat to blacklist any oil firm with a KRG deal from receiving any contracts in upcoming national tenders.
"The oil companies operating in the Kurdistan Region insist on working in the region and don't pay any attention to Shahristani's threats," said Falah Mustafa Bakir, The Kurdish Globe reports. The Globe reported Wednesday the talks were taking place and said Bakir won't meet with Shahristani.
Weekly Petroleum Argus reports the Kurds are asking Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to delegate his energy adviser, Thamir Ghadhban, instead of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani in new oil law talks in Parliament's Energy Committee.
Ben Lando, UPI Energy Editor